Managing Screen Time Increases Family Joy, by Rachel Macy Stafford

My favorite group to speak to about reducing screen time and living a more present and joy-filled life is school-age children. When I tell my eager listeners that the purpose of my book, Hands Free Life, is to show people how to turn away from the daily distractions of screen time and turn toward our loved ones, something happens. Small hands shoot straight up in the air and earnest voices beg to share their stories.

“My mom’s phone is the most important thing.”

“My dad never stops working.”

“My mom texts and drives.”

“My dad forgets to say ‘goodbye’ when I get out of the car because of his calls.”

“My parents are so busy. They forget about me.”

It is no secret that parents’ own screen time is being noticed, and in some cases, causing feelings of rejection, anger, and loneliness within the hearts of loved ones. I know first-hand how painful it is to realize how devices, to-do lists, and increased screen time have taken precedence over meaningful conversation and memorable experiences. Yet in my efforts to transform my distracted life, I realized something equally important to what I was missing. I realized that my children’s chance at living a present, joy-filled life in a distracted world begins with me and my own ability to manage screen time.

The Power of Modeling

Through our modeling of healthy technology use, children can learn there is a time and place for our devices. On the flip side, if we constantly have a device in our hand or our face in a screen, children will learn that the device takes priority over humans and real life experiences. Our children’s tech use and screen time is likely to resemble our own—what we do with our device at the dinner table, while driving, or while waiting at a restaurant is likely what they will do.

One of my most effective strategies for reducing screen time and maintaining healthy boundaries between real life and technology is to envision what will make my children feel fulfilled in the future. And it comes down to this:

If I want my children to be awed by sunsets in the future, I must take time to be awed by sights in nature now.

If I want my children to relish in the joys of a screen-free Saturday, I must express joy in going off the grid.

If I want my children to experience the freedom that comes from open blue skies and crunchy leaves underfoot, I must partake in such freedoms myself.

If I want my children to look straight into the eyes of those who speak to them, I must look into their eyes and listen to their words.

It is my ultimate hope that my children yearn to experience all life has to offer with open hands, an open heart, and attentive eyes. This means doing what I can to be a positive example as they grow. It means modeling healthy screen time usage.

6 Small Changes in Screen Time
Have Big Impacts

Living Hands Free does not mean giving up technology altogether, and it does not mean ignoring your job responsibilities, volunteer obligations, or home duties. Living Hands Free means making a conscious decision to temporarily push aside the daily distractions of screen time and give your undivided attention to someone or something meaningful in your life. Here are six small changes you can make as individuals or as a family that will make a big impact on you and your family’s well-being, now and in the future:

  1. Protect family time by turning off the notifications on your phone and placing it out of reach so you are not tempted to check it whenever it dings. In addition, shut down the computer until the kids go to bed so a quick look at email or social media doesn’t turn into hours of useless screen time. If your children use devices, have everyone participate in this sacred time of undisturbed connection each day.
  2. Go to places with no electronic distractions and leave the devices at home. Visit the local library or go on family hikes and picnics. Visit new places on the weekends, such as parks, museums, farmer’s markets, and inexpensive sporting events. Taking a break from the online world offers a restorative breather. Within these breaks, conversation flows and memories are made.
  3. Resist the urge to look at your phone when you are with your children/family in “waiting” situations like the doctor’s office, restaurants, events, or activities. This wait time is ideal “connection” time and provides powerful modeling. In addition, wait time provides much needed time for our minds to wander and process the feelings and events of the day.
  4. Be an example of what it means to live presently. Let it be known when you make the choice to put away your distractions or limit your screen time. For example, inform the family that you are putting your phone in the glove compartment as you drive or leaving the phone at home when you go out to dinner or take a walk. Express gratitude for sights, sounds, tastes, and moments in life that you would have missed if you were tied to technology.
  5. Create at least one daily ritual where time with your child is sacred and undistracted. This might include: tucking him or her in bed at night, having dinner together, walking the dog, or enjoying morning snuggles. No matter how distracted the day becomes or has been, your child can count on having that uninterrupted connection time with you. It’s incredibly motivating to think that someday your child will remember you holding a leash, a book, a fishing pole, or a gardening tool instead of a phone.
  6. Use visual reminders to keep yourself focused on what is important. Early in my Hands Free journey, it was helpful for me to post love notes written by my daughter in various places around the house and use them as “stop signs” for my distracted ways. I also wrote a Hands Free Pledge and Hands Free Life House Rules to display in our home and set our intentions for how we want to live. I currently wear a Live Hands Free bracelet as a visual reminder to be all there when in the company of my loved ones.

As you take small steps in your life to limit screen time and create space for meaningful living and loving, notice the positive results. What emotions do you experience when you step away from your devices to spend time with a loved one? Do you notice anything special about your loved one that you failed to notice before? Does the importance of your online activities decrease when you are engaged in a moment of loving human connection? Are you beginning to notice more opportunities to connect to what matters to you?

I hope you find, as I have, that the benefits of a Hands Free Life are extensive. With each small step to be more present in your life, you are able to protect your time, strengthen your relationships, and nurture your own health and well-being. You are also able to model healthy lifestyle and screen time boundaries for your children that enrich their lives indefinitely.

For More Information…

Managing Screen Time Increases Family Joy, by Rachel Macy StaffordPurchase Rachel Macy Stafford’s book, Hands Free Life: Nine Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More to learn how nine habits can improve your life and the lives of your children!

Image Credit: Tom Wang

Published: August 25, 2015

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